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People in Politics: The Civic Mayor of Kirklees


Councillor Ken Smith became the Mayor of Kirklees Metropolitan Council in 2014.
In the first of our series talking to the occupants of political offices he tells Elizabeth Hill-Scott about what it means to be Mayor and how he misses giving a good heckle. 

EH-S So, how would you sum up what the Mayor does?

Mr. Mayor Well for me it’s largely encouraging the efforts being made by statutory bodies, voluntary groups and individuals as the figurehead of the Council.

EH-S How did you become Mayor?

Mr. Mayor There’s no law about selecting Mayors and each Council has slightly different systems. In ours we have a points system based on the strengths of each political party. This avoids squabbles. After the spring elections in a ceremony called  ‘Mayor-Making’ all 69 members of the Council vote in the nominations for Mayor (and Deputy Mayor) who then chairs the first meeting. The etiquette is that the Deputy Mayor becomes the Mayor in the following year. This means I was Deputy Mayor last year, although no one told me at my first council meeting that I needed to work the microphones for the live online broadcast!

EH-S Do you have any specific responsibilities?

Mr. Mayor The main one is to chair the full meetings of the Council. It was strange at first not being in my usual seat plus I was considered chief heckler, which you can’t do as Mayor!

I also host delegations and citizenship ceremonies, (he confesses that singing the National Anthem is not his forte) and I talk to school children in the Town Hall about my role and democracy.

I get invited to represent Kirklees at a variety of events such as World War One commemorations, musical concerts, opening both public and commercial places and I support Kirkwood Hospice, as my chosen Mayoral charity. My wife and the Lady Mayoress’ husband were both cared for at Kirkwood so it had to be there.

My partner Christine, Lady Mayoress, supports me in this work and I have a Deputy Mayor, although as the role suggests we’re rarely in the same place.

EH-S What’s been the best part of your year so far?

Mr. Mayor We were invited to the graduation ceremony of a group belonging to Dark Horse Theatre, which trains learning-disabled actors. We were treated to a lovely performance. It was superb. 

EH-S Do you like wearing the traditional Mayoral robes and chains?

Mr. Mayor I rarely wear them actually, but they also come with gloves and a hat. My thinking is if people want to see me in the Mayoral outfit I’ll give’em the whole lot! 

EH-S So, how do you balance this with being a ward councilor?

Mr. Mayor (answers quickly) It’s tricky. You’ve got to be wearing several different hats. People also elected me to represent them so I hold ward meetings with local people about their issues and concerns. Sometimes people ask me about Mayoral work during political events, they’ll say ‘aren’t you the Mayor?’ And I’ll have to say ‘yes but not tonight.’  It’s also sometimes frustrating when I can’t say what I want to. 

EH-S So what got you interested in politics?

Mr. Mayor I got into politics because of Margaret Thatcher.  After she was elected in 1979 I turned to my wife and said ‘we must do something about it.’ I got involved with the Labour Party after that and was first elected in 1984.

EH-S OK I’m going to rule out Mrs. Thatcher in this next question. Do you have a political hero?

Mr. Mayor “I’m not sure I have a political hero but I do have a real political regret. A few years ago I was asked to be part of a delegation welcoming Nelson Mandela to Leeds Bradford Airport. It was at 7:30am so I didn’t go.

LH-S (looking stunned) “you’re not an early morning person then?”

Mr. Mayor No. I really do regret it though.

LH-S What do you think about proposals for Metro-Mayors as we’ve seen in Greater Manchester?

Mr. Mayor I think it’s a bad step to have too much executive power in one pair of hands so I’m not in favour of elected city mayors either. We have a system of leaders coming together countywide to discuss issues that affect us all, which works.

About the Council

Kirklees Metropolitan Council represents Batley, Dewsbury, Huddersfield, Holmfirth and other localities in West Yorkshire. West Yorkshire is a county in the north of England.

The Council is split into electoral wards and each ward has three representatives. Kirklees has 69 representatives and they have the title of 'Councillors.' They can also be referred to as 'Elected Members' as they are members of the Council. Like central government, the Council has an executive comprised of a Leader and their Cabinet. Each Cabinet Member is responsible for delivering services such as housing, children's services and health and well-being services.